Lebanon ‘following in Venezuela’s footsteps’

A customer wearing gloves holds Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange store in Beirut. (REUTERS)
A customer wearing gloves holds Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange store in Beirut. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 27 January 2023

Lebanon ‘following in Venezuela’s footsteps’

A customer wearing gloves holds Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange store in Beirut. (REUTERS)
  • Economist Jassem Ajaka told Arab News: “We are following in the footsteps of Venezuela. The central bank’s intervention to stop the local currency from depreciating this fast will not work as long as there is no government action”

BEIRUT: In less than 24 hours, Lebanon’s currency dropped in value by over 10,000 Lebanese pounds, with the exchange rate nearing 70,000 to the dollar — a plunge that comes at a time when Lebanese were dreading the exchange rate reaching 50,000 to the dollar.

Economist Jassem Ajaka told Arab News: “We are following in the footsteps of Venezuela. The central bank’s intervention to stop the local currency from depreciating this fast will not work as long as there is no government action.”

Ajaka said he believed that the problem lay in the Lebanese structure, lack of confidence in politics and judges, and the conflict with the international community over Lebanon’s failure to pay its debts.

To avoid losses, commercial and service institutions priced their products based on a much higher exchange rate, in anticipation of further devaluation. Such action significantly decreased citizens’ purchasing power.

The price of a 20-liter canister of fuel jumped by 147,000 Lebanese pounds within 24 hours, reaching 1,147,000 LBP ($19 based on the exchange rate of 60,000 LBP/USD), which is equivalent to the salary of a public sector employee.

The unstable exchange rate pushed the owners of grocery stores to either close for the day or stop selling certain products.

More protesters took to the streets in rural Lebanese areas on Friday, blocking roads with burning tires. The Baalbek International Road was completely cut off in protest against the economic situation. Protesters also blocked Al-Minya International Road in northern Lebanon in both directions, in protest against the deteriorating living conditions.

The Ministry of Economy issued a decision raising the price of a big bundle of Arab bread to 29,000 LBP (48 cents).

With prices soaring, some taxi drivers opted to stay in one region to avoid wasting fuel in traffic jams, constantly changing their fares depending on the exchange rate.

For the first time ever, the pharmacists’ syndicate in Lebanon called on its members to close their pharmacies in protest against the current situation.

“Pharmaceutical suppliers and warehouse owners completely stopped delivering medicines nearly a week ago. The syndicate of pharmaceutical importers will only deliver medicines now based on a daily issued price list, similar to gas stations,” the syndicate said in a statement.

Joe Salloum, head of the syndicate, said: “The price differences between the Ministry of Health index and the exchange rate on the black market are among the reasons that almost led to the sector completely collapsing.”

Robert, a pharmacist in Beirut, said that he sold a medicine based on the exchange rate of 50,000 LBP/USD, according to the Ministry of Health index, but the exchange rate on the black market later reached 61,000 LBP/USD, which means he can no longer buy the same medicine without incurring losses.

“Whatever I sell, I can no longer buy. Suppliers are barely delivering drugs and the exchange rate is always changing. Meanwhile, the list of missing medicines keeps getting longer,” he added.

Last week, the hospitals’ syndicate resorted to adopting a procedure that requires patients registered with the National Fund of Social Security to pay for the required medicines, because the state is unable to cover their costs for hospitals due to the unstable exchange rate.

Antoine Yammine, head of the syndicate of owners and investors of domestic gas cylinder filling plants, warned on Friday of the forced closure of plants due to the insane devaluation of the Lebanese pound, as the price of a domestic gas cylinder exceeded 730,000 LBP, about $12 (based on the exchange rate of 60,000 LBP/USD).

Yammine said: “Yesterday, the price list was priced according to the exchange rate of 60,600 LBP/USD, but it jumped to 64,000 LBP/USD on the back market today, which means that yesterday’s sales were all losses. Our capital is eroding by the day. The authorities must put an end to this farce.”

Meanwhile, parliamentary blocs are yet to agree on the election of a new Lebanese president.

Opposition MPs met on Friday after they had participated in Thursday’s protests of the families of the victims of the port explosion in front of the Ministry of Justice after Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oueidat released all those that Judge Tarek Bitar had had arrested.

The MPs issued a statement, saying: “We support the demand for holding Judge Oueidat accountable for the flagrant violations he has committed,” expressing their rejection of removing Judge Bitar and assigning another judge to handle the probe.

They also warned against the dangers created by the presidential vacuum. They reiterated their call and commitment to the provisions of the constitution, which stipulate that parliament is an electoral body that convenes regularly until a president is elected.

Judge Bitar is expected to proceed with his investigations, despite all the judicial objections to the legal study that he referred to in order to resume his work after a 13-month hiatus.

Next week’s interrogation sessions are scheduled to begin on Feb. 6 with MP Ghazi Zeaiter and former minister Mohad Al-Machnouk.

Members of the Supreme Judicial Council and its head Judge Suhail Abboud are still at odds over the fate of Bitar, who is in charge of the probe into the Beirut Port explosion.

 


Turkish, Syrian children collaborate on bilingual book

Turkish, Syrian children collaborate on bilingual book
Updated 01 April 2023

Turkish, Syrian children collaborate on bilingual book

Turkish, Syrian children collaborate on bilingual book
  • The book — which has been published in Turkish and Arabic — is currently being distributed to libraries, schools and museums in the city
  • “These children are the heroes of a common story,” Asli Gokgoz, a teacher and the project coordinator, told Arab News

ANKARA: As part of a project jointly funded by the Goethe Institute, the Dutch Embassy, the Swedish Consulate, the French Cultural Center, the Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation, and the Anadolu Kultur Foundation, 40 Turkish and Syrian children living in Turkiye’s southeastern province of Gaziantep have collaborated to write and illustrate a book titled “Gokce” (sky in Turkish), alluding to the fact that people of all races, cultures and creeds live together under the same sky.
Gaziantep, whose population is nearly 2 million, is home to about half a million Syrian refugees. The city has the second-highest population of Syrians after Istanbul. Currently, there are 3.6 million Syrian refugees across Turkiye, including 1.6 million children.
The book — which has been published in Turkish and Arabic — is currently being distributed to libraries, schools and museums in the city, including mobile libraries for children that were set up following the earthquake in February that left more than 50,000 people dead in Turkiye and Syria. The book’s cover bears the fingerprints of all the children who helped to produce it.
“These children are the heroes of a common story,” Asli Gokgoz, a teacher and the project coordinator, told Arab News. “They grew up with different stories, but they showed that they could come together to produce a common narrative that symbolizes the cultural, ethnical and linguistic heterogeneity of Gaziantep province.”
The book opens with a well-known sentence: Once upon a time. Then, children began developing the story jointly by consensus. It is about the adventures of a girl named Gokce, who lives with her lambs and family on a green upland full of colorful flowers.
The children received creative-writing training and attended interactive reading and drawing workshops to enable them to better express their feelings through words and drawings.
“These workshops helped them listen to their own voices while at the same time paying attention to what their peers were saying. We tried to contribute to their own journey of self-discovery and help to reestablish their self-confidence,” Gokgoz said.
“They are aware of their differences but they also know that they enjoy the same child rights. Such a project helped them establish a common story by a collective effort to blend these disparities around a common dream,” Gokgoz continued.
Several Syrian children who took part in the project came to Gaziantep to escape the brutal war in their home country, and are still struggling to rebuild their lives, especially following February’s earthquake. One of them, 14-year-old Mariam Nasser, told Arab News: “In spite of differences in ages and cultural backgrounds, we can integrate our efforts to produce valuable results. Social cohesion is an important factor for healthy communities.”
Nasser, who was born in Syria and came to Gaziantep as a refugee several years ago, said the project’s workshops had helped her develop her imagination and writing abilities.
“I liked getting to know Turkish children and playing with them. I even felt my self-confidence growing. Our common project also helped our families, because Turkish and Syrian families also built bridges between themselves and left behind several prejudices,” she said. “This book is a clear sign that children can achieve anything when they come together under the same sky.”
Another Turkish participant shares the same feeling.
“After this project, I learned how to live together under the same sky,” 10-year-old Ege Mai, a resident of Gaziantep, told Arab News. “I understood that people can be different from each other, but that we are all basically the same.”
 


Syria foreign minister makes first Egypt visit for more than a decade

Syria foreign minister makes first Egypt visit for more than a decade
Updated 2 min 49 sec ago

Syria foreign minister makes first Egypt visit for more than a decade

Syria foreign minister makes first Egypt visit for more than a decade
  • An Egyptian security source said the visit was aimed at putting in place steps for Syria’s return to the Arab League

CAIRO: Egypt and Syria agreed to strengthen cooperation on Saturday during the first official visit by a Syrian foreign minister to Cairo in more than a decade, the latest sign of Arab states mending ties with President Bashar al Assad.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was embraced by Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry as he arrived at Egypt’s foreign ministry in the first official trip since before the uprising and conflict that began in Syria in 2011.
President Assad was shunned by many Western and Arab states due to the war in Syria, which splintered the country and left hundreds of thousands of people dead.
“The ministers agreed to intensify channels of communication between the two countries at different levels during the coming phase,” a statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry said.
Egypt also reiterated its backing for a “comprehensive political settlement to the Syrian crisis as soon as possible.”
An Egyptian security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the visit was aimed at putting in place steps for Syria’s return to the Arab League through Egyptian and Saudi Arabian mediation.
The Cairo-based Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in 2011 and many Arab states pulled their envoys out of Damascus.
Some countries, including the United States and Qatar, have opposed the rehabilitation of ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress toward a political solution in Syria.
But key regional powers including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have recently signalled increasing openness toward Damascus.
Egypt’s Shoukry visited Syria and Turkiye in February after the devastating earthquakes there, and on Saturday reiterated a pledge of support for its victims.
Egypt’s foreign ministry published pictures of Shoukry warmly greeting Mekdad at the foreign ministry on the banks of the Nile, as well as in one-on-one talks and leading a wider discussion.


Sudan delays signing of deal to usher in civilian government

Sudan delays signing of deal to usher in civilian government
Updated 01 April 2023

Sudan delays signing of deal to usher in civilian government

Sudan delays signing of deal to usher in civilian government

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military leaders and pro-democracy forces will delay the signing of an agreement to usher in a civilian government, both sides said in a joint statement issued early Saturday.
The postponement of the signing — which had been scheduled for later Saturday — comes as key security reform negotiations between the Sudanese army and the country’s powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces appear to have reached a deadlock.
A meeting will be held Saturday “to set a new date for signing the final political agreement, which could not be signed on time due to the lack of consensus on some outstanding issues,” the statement said.
Sudan has been mired in chaos after a military coup, led by the country’s top Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, removed a Western-backed power-sharing government in October 2021, upending the country’s short-lived transition to democracy.
But last December, the military, the RSF and numerous pro-democracy groups signed a preliminary deal vowing to restore the transition.
In recent months, internationally brokered workshops in Khartoum have sought to find common ground over the country’s thorniest political issues in the hope of signing a more inclusive final agreement.
Chief among the discussion points have been security sector reform and the integration of the RSF into the military — the topic of this week’s talks. But talks ended Wednesday without any clear outcome.
Shihab Ibrahim, a spokesperson for one of the largest pro-democracy groups that signed December’s deal, said the army and the RSF have struggled to reach an agreement over the timeline of the integration process.
The army wants a two-year timeline for integration while the RSF has called for a 10-year window, he said.
Spokespersons for the Sudanese army and the RSF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Iran’s judiciary chief threatens to prosecute ‘without mercy’ unveiled women

Iran’s judiciary chief threatens to prosecute ‘without mercy’ unveiled women
Updated 53 sec ago

Iran’s judiciary chief threatens to prosecute ‘without mercy’ unveiled women

Iran’s judiciary chief threatens to prosecute ‘without mercy’ unveiled women
  • Iran’s Interior Ministry earlier released statement that reinforced mandatory hijab law
  • Iranian women widely seen unveiled in malls, restaurants, shops and streets

TEHRAN: Faced with an increasing number of women defying the compulsory dress code, Iran’s judiciary chief has threatened to prosecute “without mercy” women who appear in public unveiled, Iranian media reported on Saturday.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei’s warning comes on the heels of an Interior Ministry statement on Thursday that reinforced the government’s mandatory hijab law.

“Unveiling is tantamount to enmity with (our) values,” Ejei was quoted as saying by several news sites. Those “who commit such anomalous acts will be punished” and will be “prosecuted without mercy,” he said, without saying what the punishment entails.

Ejei, Iran’s chief justice, said law enforcement officers were “obliged to refer obvious crimes and any kind of abnormality that is against the religious law and occurs in public to judicial authorities”.

A growing number of Iranian women have been ditching their veils since the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in the custody of the morality police last September. Mahsa Amini had been detained for allegedly violating the hijab rule.

Government forces violently put down months of nationwide revolt unleashed by her death.

Still, risking arrest for defying the obligatory dress code, women are widely seen unveiled in malls, restaurants, shops and streets around the country. Videos of unveiled women resisting the morality police have flooded social media.

Under Iran’s Islamic Sharia law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures. Violators have faced public rebuke, fines or arrest.

Describing the veil as “one of the civilizational foundations of the Iranian nation” and “one of the practical principles of the Islamic Republic,” the Interior Ministry statement on Thursday said there would be no “retreat or tolerance” on the issue.

It urged ordinary citizens to confront unveiled women. Such directives have in past decades emboldened hard-liners to attack women without impunity.

And on Saturday, Iranian authorities ordered the arrest of two women after a viral video appeared to show them being attacked by a man for not wearing the hijab.

Video footage widely shared on social media in Iran appeared to show the two female customers, who were not wearing the mandatory hijab or headscarf, in a shop being assaulted by a man after a verbal altercation.

The footage shows the man pouring a bucket of what appears to be yogurt on the two women’s heads before he is confronted by the shopkeeper.

Authorities issued an arrest warrant against the man “on charges of committing an insulting act and disturbance of order,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.

But it added arrest warrants were also issued for the two women for “committing a forbidden act” by removing their headscarves.

“Necessary notices have been issued to the owner of the shop where this happened in order to comply with legal and Sharia principles according to the regulations,” it added.

* With AFP and Reuters


Israeli police fatally shoot man at Jerusalem’s holiest site

Israeli police fatally shoot man at Jerusalem’s holiest site
Updated 01 April 2023

Israeli police fatally shoot man at Jerusalem’s holiest site

Israeli police fatally shoot man at Jerusalem’s holiest site
  • Worshippers at the entrance to the said that police shot the man at least 10 times after he tried to prevent them from harassing a woman
  • The attack occurred hours after thousands of Palestinians had packed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound

JERUSALEM: Israeli police shot and killed a man who they alleged tried to snatch an officer’s gun at an entrance to a Jerusalem holy site early Saturday, raising fears of further violence during a time of heightened tensions at the flashpoint compound.
The police said the slain man was 26-year-old Mohammed Alasibi from Hura, a Bedouin Arab village in southern Israel. Palestinian worshippers at the entrance to the site on Saturday morning had a different account, saying that police shot the man at least 10 times after he tried to prevent them from harassing a woman who was on her way to the holy compound.
Hours after the incident, the muddy stone alleyway leading to the compound was still stained with blood.
Authorities said that officers detained the man for questioning outside the sacred compound home to Al-Aqsa Mosque in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City — the third holiest shrine in Islam. The compound, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, is also the most sacred site in Judaism.
The city’s contested compound has been a focus for clashes in the past, particularly in times of turmoil in Israel and the West Bank. This year, as violence surges in the occupied territory under the most right-wing government in Israeli history, fears of an escalation in Jerusalem have mounted with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Israeli police have boosted their forces in the area as tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers from Jerusalem and the West Bank gather for prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
On Friday, more than 200,000 Palestinians gathered for noon prayers at the compound, which passed peacefully.
Just after midnight Saturday, police said Alasibi attacked one of the officers and grabbed his gun, managing to fire two bullets into the air as the officer struggled to restrain him. Police described the incident as an attempted terrorist attack and said they shot and killed him in self-defense.
But Palestinian worshippers milling around the compound on Saturday insisted that the man was not a terrorist. Noureddine, a 17-year-old who lived in the neighborhood and declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals, said he saw Alasibi confront police who had stopped a female worshipper on her way to Al-Aqsa Mosque. Alasibi’s relationship to the woman was not clear. He said some kind of disagreement broke out between Alasibi and the officers before he heard a dozen shots ring out.
“Nothing could justify that many shots,” he said, pointing to chaotic footage he filmed that showed Palestinian vendors and worshippers screaming at the sound of bullets being fired in rapid succession. “They were all at close range.”
Palestinian media widely reported that Alasibi was a doctor who had studied medicine recently in Romania.
Noureddine said police tried to force Palestinian vendors and worshippers out of the area after the incident, beating him and others with batons. Israeli police briefly closed the site before reopening it for dawn prayers.
Confrontations at the hilltop compound have triggered wider violence in the region in the past. Clashes at the site in May 2021 helped fuel the outbreak of a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers.
This year’s convergence of Ramadan with the Jewish holiday of Passover could increase the possibility of friction as the Old City hosts a large influx of pilgrims.
Early on Saturday, residents of the Old City shared videos of Israeli police entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to remove a banner belonging to the Islamic militant group Hamas hanging over the shrine that called worshippers to confront right-wing Jews who were planning to tour the compound on Sunday.
Settlers in the Old City, and devout Jewish Israelis, have visited the Temple Mount in rising numbers in recent years. Under a long-standing agreement known as the status quo, Jews are allowed to visit but not pray at the site. Any small perceived change to the status quo at the site can trigger violence.
For the past year, Israeli-Palestinian fighting has surged in the occupied West Bank. At least 86 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli or settler gunfire this year, according to an Associated Press tally. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 15 people in the same period. Israel says most of those killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting police incursions and people not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.